‘Every physical movement counts’: Even a leisurely 10-minute walk slashes heart failure risk

DALLAS — Prevent heart failure could be as simple as taking a leisurely walk for up to a half-hour each day, a new study finds. Scientists say 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, such as a brisk stroll, is enough to reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke.

Meanwhile, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week also cuts the risk, but only by an additional three percent. Researchers with the American Heart Association found people who engaged in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise weekly had a 63-percent lower risk of developing heart failure, compared to couch potatoes who barely participated in any exercise.

Exercise enthusiasts who did 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity in a week had a 66-percent lower risk of developing heart failure. However, people who walk for up to 500 minutes a week can reap even bigger benefits.

Every bit of physical activity helps

While similar findings have been made in previous studies, the authors say theirs is among the first to show the link still holds up independently of demographics, lifestyle, and existing risk factors.

People with risk factors for heart problems — such as being overweight, having high blood pressure, and having high blood sugar and cholesterol levels — would particularly benefit from exercising more, the authors say.

“These findings indicate that every physical movement counts. A leisurely, 10-minute walk is better than sitting and no physical activity. And, if possible, try to walk a little faster, which increases the intensity and potential benefits of exercise,” says study co-lead author Dr. Frederick Ho from the University of Glasgow in a media release.

“Generally, moderate physical activity is easier to incorporate into daily routines, and it’s generally safer. Vigorous physical activity is sometimes the most time-efficient and may be more suitable for busy people. However, caution is advised for all when beginning a new physical activity regimen to prevent injuries or acute adverse events (such as a heart attack in a formerly sedentary person initiating a vigorous exercise program),” Ho continues.

500 minutes may be the limit

For the study, the team analyzed the health records of almost 100,000 adults between 37 and 73 years-old whose health data is part of the UK Biobank, a large database containing health information on half a million people. These participants enrolled between 2006 and 2010.

Between 2013 and 2015, researchers randomly invited the 94,739 participants to enroll in the study. The average age of participants was 56, with 57 percent being women and 96 percent being white. None of them had ever had a heart attack before they began taking part in the study.

Each participant wore a wrist accelerometer for seven consecutive days, 24 hours per day, to measure the intensity and duration of physical activity. The team collected follow-up data through linked hospital and death records. They also followed up with each person for another six years on average. Study authors adjusted risk reductions depending on age, sex, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic conditions, smoking, alcohol intake, and diet.

“There are many potential ways that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing heart failure,” Ho explains. “For example, physical activity helps prevent weight gain and related cardiometabolic conditions, such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart failure. Regular physical exercise may also strengthen the heart muscle, which, in turn, may prevent heart failure from developing.”

“We found that moderate physical activity has the potential increased cardiovascular risk benefits up until 500 minutes/week, as appropriate for each individual.”

“Our findings add to the overwhelming body of other evidence, suggesting that maintaining even a modest amount of regular physical activity can help prevent a range of chronic conditions from developing, including heart failure,” adds senior author Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition that develops when the heart is not capable of pumping enough blood to keep up with the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. It can result in fatigue and difficulty breathing.

The researchers caution that their study is observational and cannot prove a cause-and-effect link between the amount and intensity of physical activity and the risk of developing heart failure. They add that because participants in the UK Biobank are overwhelmingly white, further studies are necessary to confirm that these results apply to non-white people.

The findings are published in the journal Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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